The nasal septum is the structure between the nostrils that separates the nasal passages. The septum, composed of cartilage and thin bone, can develop a hole (perforation) in the cartilage as a complication of previous nasal surgery, from cocaine use, excessive nose picking, trauma, cancer, or diseases such as tuberculosis, sarcoidosis, or syphilis. As damage reduces blood supply in the septum, the cartilage begins to die, and a hole develops.
Some perforations can cause bleeding, pain, and a whistling sound when inhaling. If dried blood or scabs build up, you could also have trouble breathing through your nose.
Many perforations do not need to be closed. Small perforations may need only frequent rinsing with saltwater (saline) solutions and applying lubricating gels. Both can be bought without a prescription.
Several surgical techniques may be used to close a larger perforation. A surgeon may use tissue from inside your nose or from another part of your body (autograft) to stitch into the hole. Other doctors may use tissue to create a flap to cover the perforation.
Surgery for large perforations usually requires general anesthesia.
What to Expect After Surgery
You will begin rinsing the nose several times a day with saline. Your doctor will instruct you on how to use the saline. You can expect drainage after surgery.
You may need to have your nose cleaned in the doctor's office a few times. Your nose should be healed 2 to 3 weeks after the nasal pack is removed.
Avoid blowing your nose, strenuous exercise, and bending forward for a few days. Also take care not to injure your nose during exercise or other activities.
Why It Is Done
Some nasal septal perforations can cause symptoms such as bleeding and pain. Small perforations can create a whistling sound when you inhale. In cases of long-term, severe perforation, the bridge of the nose can develop a saddle-shaped deformity. Surgery can resolve these problems.
How Well It Works
Surgery to repair a nasal septal perforation is usually successful. But some large perforations may be hard to close.
Bleeding and infection can occur after any surgery. You should contact your doctor if you have:
- Heavy bleeding. Mild bleeding is normal.
- A fever of 38.3°C (101°F) or higher.
- Severe pain. Mild pain is expected.
- A foul smell coming from the nose.
- A persistent headache.
Sometimes the perforation may reopen and need another surgery.
What to Think About
Success of surgery depends to some extent on the size of the perforation and also on proper post-surgery care at home. Large perforations are more difficult to close.
The repair may not be as successful in people who smoke or have diabetes as in other people, because these conditions can reduce blood supply to the septum.
A doctor may want to try a non-surgical technique to close the perforation before suggesting surgery. In some cases, a doctor may insert septal "buttons" made of silicone or other materials that are cut to fit the perforation.
Current as of: July 29, 2019
Author: Healthwise Staff
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Anne C. Poinier MD - Internal Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Donald R. Mintz MD - Otolaryngology